Friday, April 1, 2011
There aren't many vehicles on the market like the 2011 Lincoln Navigator; the big, stately luxury SUV excels at carrying a full load of passengers, yet its truck-based underpinnings make it surprisingly deft at towing.
The 2011 Lincoln Navigator is large and lavish, in a uniquely American way, though its powertrains are a step behind those of rival truck-based SUV's.
The Lincoln Navigator hasn't changed much in appearance in many years—it's still a big body-on-frame box on wheels, albeit one dressed up with a lot of bling. Along with the Cadillac Escalade it's become iconic among some cultural subsets, and some of the Navigator's styling cues—its huge, chrome grille, for instance, which at once brings to mind 1960's-era station wagons, and more recent full-size pickups—might be horrible and garish to some tastes, stylish and fresh to others. In any case, it's uniquely American. Inside, there's a lot of inspiration from earlier Lincolns, this time with gauges modeled after those found in 1970's and '80's vehicles. There's a retro look, no doubt, but they're very visible and straightforward.
In Navigator and longer-wheelbase Navigator L models, a 310-horsepower, 5.4-liter V-8 engine drives either two or four wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission. Hauling is second nature to the Navigator—the maximum tow rating is 9,100 pounds. The size and 6,200-pound curb weight of the vehicle tax the V-8 engine at times compared to other vehicles in the class. Shifting is slick and easy, though, turning low revs at highway speeds to reduce engine noise. The Navigator handles solidly and stably, but you'll never forget you're in such a big, heavy vehicle. Body roll is what you'd expect from a big, heavy SUV—and expect heavy nosedive and lots of body motion during quick stops, or any change in direction for that matter—but the four-wheel independent suspension helps provide a smooth ride.
Though the Lincoln Navigator is closely related to the Ford Expedition, it's more upscale inside, offering a little more quiet, and a little more comfort. Inside, in fact, the Navigator feels like a true luxury vehicle—the payoff of additional insulation and noise-canceling materials.
Design and function of all the interior's core elements are good. Seating comfort is top-notch in the 2011 Navigator, whether you go for the Navigator or Navigator L. Two models are available, the Navigator and Navigator L; the latter is 14.7 inches longer than the standard model, and some of that length goes into improved third-row access. Cargo space is better in the Navigator L, too.
Materials inside the 2011 Lincoln Navigator are mostly high-quality, though there are a few low points. Premium trappings—the real-wood trim and leather upholstery—feel genuinely premium, but they're let down by bargain-bin trim like hard plastics, chrome-painted plastics, and cheap-feeling switchgear in places. But there are plenty of places to store smaller items, as well as cupholders for all.
The Navigator has an equipment list that keeps with first impressions; its features list delivers exactly what you'd expect in a richly appointed but conservative luxury vehicle—along with a surprisingly up-to-date set of connectivity and convenience features. Power-deployable running boards, to help ease ingress and egress, are standard, and for 2011, a voice-controlled navigation system, HD Radio, Sync connectivity, and Sirius Travel Link information services are now standard. Ford's MyKey system, which allows owners to set limits on top speed and radio volume, is now standard. The SYNC and Sirius Travel Link system offers voice-activated control of climate and navigation systems, plus the ability to search traffic and weather conditions in real time. Other noteworthy features include a rearview camera system, rain-sensing windshield wipers, EasyFuel capless fuel fill, Front Park Assist, and heated second-row seats.
Since it's shed Volvo, Jaguar, Land Rover and Aston Martin--not to mention Mercury--Ford has been voicing bigger plans for its Lincoln brand. More luxurious cars are on the way, with more distinctive powertrains and even higher technology, we're promised.
The 2011 Lincoln MKZ has a foot in both luxury worlds, with buttery leather and wood for traditionalists, and hybrid power with flower petals for the high-minded greens.
In the meantime, Ford has a Lincoln lineup that owes plenty to similar Ford-brand products. The MKZ sedan is the best example of how close today's Lincolns can seem to current Fords, while still delivering about as much differentiation as a Lexus ES 350 does from a Toyota Camry.
The MKZ wears a front end all its own, and it's drama-infused. The wings and ribs contrast deeply with the traditional luxury-car dash and its bands of wood and swaths of Scottish leather. The LCD panel in the center can be a jarring note--but it's also the window to a bundle of electronics that keep drivers in SYNC with music and callers while they're keeping both hands on the wheel.
With its more tidy proportions, the MKZ doesn't have the kind of spread-out space you'll find in a bigger Buick or Chrysler, but the same scale works to its advantage in handling. The MKZ's electric power steering feels almost natural, and its ride quality just firm enough, more so with a Sport package and 18-inch wheels.
Then there's the MKZ Hybrid, which Ford pitches at the same price as the conventionally powered V-6 MKZ. It keeps the 41-mpg city fuel economy of the similar Fusion Hybrid, but instead of rewarding green drivers with leaves, it shows its appreciation for gentler driving with...flowers.
With jazzy style, the luxury goods it needs and a new outlook on what luxury actually means to non-cigar-smoking, non-McMansion-dwelling urbanites, the MKZ Hybrid is a clear marketing win as Lincoln specs out a somewhat opaque future. To our testers, the Hybrid makes eminently better sense than the less imaginative MKZ--at zero cost added.